Seasonal manatee protection zones go into effect in Southwest Florida

Posted at 2:54 PM, Nov 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-15 14:54:21-05

LEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Florida's beloved manatees are on the move again!  They're in search of warmer water as winter approaches.

It's part of a migration the sea cows do every year, starting in November.

They're not very shy, and love warm water.  So as the cold season approaches, manatees will be visiting Southwest Florida once again.  And hundreds of people will flock to Manatee Park in Fort Myers to catch a glimpse of the giants as they seek warmer water from the nearby power plant.

"The first time I saw them, I didn't even realize they were manatees. It was just like there were these huge boulders all over the canal."  Wallace Campbell calls himself the manatee minute man.  "Critical water temperature for them is 68 degrees fahrenheit.  Whenever it's that cold they have to come here or somewhere the water's warm."

He'll give you a minute's worth of manatee facts if you come by the park, and he tells me there are some rules when you encounter the gentle giants.  "You're not allowed to harass them, touch them, feed them."

Florida Fish and Wildlife are reminding people that seasonal protection zones for manatees are going into effect on Tuesday.  So far, there have been 91 reported manatee deaths this year from boat strikes.

People at the park tell Fox 4 that manatees and boaters encounter each other all the time.  "This is my sixth season, and I've yet to see my first manatee that doesn't have the boat mark scars on its body."

"They're bothered by the manatees, they were actually here first before the boaters."

FWC wants boaters to slow down and keep an eye out, because manatees swim close to the surface.

Those at Manatee Park reported a couple of manatee sightings early Sunday morning.  But Campell says soon there will be a lot more.  "You're wearing your sweats and you can see your breath, come to Manatee Park because then we'll have hundreds of manatees here."

How will you know when manatees are at the park? Well Campbell says you can log onto your computer and search for the gulf temperature. If it's below 68 degree, you can almost guarantee you'll spot several manatees.